MADRID (AFP) - Real Madrid’s La Liga title hopes suffered a huge blow as they could only manage a 2-2 draw at home by Valencia on Sunday.
Earlier, leaders Atletico Madrid’s 2-0 defeat away Levante, in a game overshadowed by fresh claims of racism at a Spanish game, appeared to have given Real new life in their bid for a historic treble.
However, despite a stunning back-heeled injury time equaliser from Cristiano Ronaldo to rescue a point, Atletico now just need four points from their last two games to win La Liga for the first time in 18 years.
“It makes things more difficult, but I have always said this league will be decided in the last game,” said Real boss Carlo Ancelotti.“It has been a difficult weekend for the three in front and the title race is more open than ever.”
Ronaldo and Gareth Bale were starting together in the league for the first time in over a month and nearly combined for the opener after just three minutes as Ronaldo latched onto Bale’s lovely cushioned pass but shot straight at Diego Alves in the Valencia goal.
Karim Benzema then headed just over after more good work by Bale before Valencia showed their threat on the counter on 16 minutes when Diego Lopez did well to turn Dani Parejo’s powerful header onto the bar.
Ronaldo then had a trio of efforts parried by Alves, but the visitors broke well again three minutes before half-time and after Lopez had turned Sofiane Fegouli’s fierce drive over, Jeremy Mathieu bundled the ball home from the resulting corner.
Lopez had to be alert again to prevent Paco Alcacer from doubling Valencia’s advantage seven minutes after the break.
However, Madrid then laid seige to the Valencia goal and after Alves had produced another brilliant save to deny Ronaldo, they finally found a way past the Brazilian when Ramos headed home from close range.
The hosts were only level for five minutes, though, as Feghouli’s cross from the right fell perfectly for Parejo to put Valencia back in front.
Ronaldo snatched at least a point for the hosts when he produced a moment of magic in the second minute of stoppage time to backheel Angel di Maria’s cross past Alves for his 50th goal of the season.
Earlier, Atletico were beaten for the first time in 15 games in all competitions.
But the match was overshadowed by more claims of racism in Spanish football as just a week after a banana was thrown at Barcelona full-back Dani Alves, Levante midfielder Pape Diop said he had been the subject of monkey chants from the Atletico fans.
Diop provoked outrage among the Atletico players by dancing in front of the disconsolate travelling fans at the final whistle.
However, the Senegalese said he was just responding to monkey chants aimed towards him as he took a corner deep into stoppage time.
“I went to take a corner and some of the Atletico fans began to make monkey chants. To play it down, I started to dance, but I didn’t insult anyone,” he said.
“I don’t have anything against the Atletico fans because it was only a section that shouted. It is a lack of respect that happens in all stadiums. I don’t know if you can call it racist, but the monkey chanting has to stop.”
Atletico had enjoyed a momentous week prior to defeat at the Ciutat de Valencia as they progressed to the Champions League final for only the second time in their history with a 3-1 win over Chelsea on Wednesday.
And, despite the defeat, coach Diego Simeone believes they still have much to look forward to in their remaining three games in all competitions this season.
“This defeat is the best thing that could happen to us. We now have three weeks of high intensity and emotion ahead of us,” said the Argentine.
“It is an ideal moment for the players. We have three fantastic weeks to come.” Atletico were chasing the game almost from the off as a corner from the right struck Filipe Luis on the chest and rebounded past the helpless Thibaut Courtois.
The visitors threw everything at the Levante goal in the search for an equaliser, but couldn’t find a way past the inspired Keylor Navas as he made fine saves from Raul Garcia, Toby Alderweireld and Arda Turan, whilst Luis also saw an effort cleared off the line.
And Atletico were then struck with a sucker punch as Levante broke upfield and David Barral was on hand to turn home Victor Casadesus’ low ball into the box.